What about the women: The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

This is a response to a post at Everyday Whorephobia called “When the State Traffics Women“. I posted a brief response on the blog itself [which is currently in moderation]* but I wanted to write a longer response. Women’s history is something I am very passionate about and this particular topic is something I am quite familiar with. Whilst I am glad more women are writing about this topic, I do have some reservations about some of the conclusions within this piece.

Sexual violence and rape were common during the Holocaust. The fact that these experiences are not common knowledge is because of sexist constructions of a specific Holocaust narrative which privileged testimonies of male survivors like Elie Wiesel over women, Gay men, people with disabilities, and children, to name a few. Partly, this was because of the historical context in which Holocaust narratives became well-known as very little academic research was done until the 1960s. Testimonies published in the immediate post-war era, of which there are many, had very small publishing runs as many people were simply not interested in analysing the full spectrum of violence perpetrated during World War Two. Holocaust history was written during, and is historically situated by, the Cold War. The political desires of the US and the USSR impact how Holocaust history was written and who it was being written for. Racism was a motivating factor of the crimes against humanity during the war as much as it was a motivating factor for how the history of the war was written.

As with all history, the Holocaust was complicated. Mass genocide does not simply occur because a few men in one nation order it. The Holocaust required the participation, active and passive, of much of Europe. That is a fact which very few are willing to acknowledge but it is something we need to remind ourselves of daily.

“When the State traffics women” does raise awareness of just how prolific sexual violence was during the Holocaust. This point cannot be emphasised enough; sexual violence was ignored by mainstream historians until well into the 1990s. Feminist historians were writing about in the early 1970s but this researched was dismissed, as women’s history frequently is. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous collections of essays on the experience of women published as well as numerous conferences which dealt specifically with the gendered experiences of women. There also been an explosion in the sheer number of women’s testimonies being (re)published. In 2010, an anthology specifically about sexual violence against Jewish women was published. As I write this, there are a multitude of PhDs, essays and books being written about sexual violence during the Holocaust. Women’s experiences are being written back into the history of the Holocaust and the extant of sexual violence against all peoples is finally being questioned.

My personal belief is that there cannot be enough research and writing on the Holocaust. The Soviet archives, which were only recently opened, have demonstrated just how much we did not know. 10 years ago, a group of scholarsdecided to establish the official number of slave labour and concentration camps. It was double what was previously believed and includes at least 500 brothels. So many records still need to be archived. What we thought we knew has turned out to be only a brief snapshot of what actually happened.

This piece had the potential to increase public awareness of the existence of brothels and the treatment of prostituted women. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the essay. First, it occasionally  conflates the experience of prostituted women within Nazi Germany with the experience of all women within the concentration, death and slave labour camps. This conflation is not helpful when researching sexual violence. The treatment of individuals within the camp system depended on their nationality, race, age, sex, sexuality, criminal activity, disability and skill. During the 1930s, the Nazis deliberately targeted prostituted women under the category of ‘asocial’** for incarceration, however we do not know how many women incarcerated as ‘asocials’ were prostituted women as the category included convicted criminals, women with disabilities, and those who are still othered in the UK now. The category of ‘asocial’ included anyone accused of moral degeneracy. It is also included women who were Lesbians. Lesbianism, unlike homosexuality, was not illegal under the Nazi regime. Lesbian women were still incarcerated but they were charged as ‘asocials’ rather than for the crime of homosexuality. This category was specifically about women living within Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war and at the beginning.

Secondly, the number of prostituted women who were incarcerated in concentration, slave-labour and death camps which had brothels is open to debate because of this issue of identification. We know, for the camps where records were not destroyed, how many women were incarcerated as ‘asocials’ but that does not give us an accurate record of women incarcerated for prostitution. This is a very important point when addressing the issue of brothels and which women were required to “work” in them because women incarcerated for the crime of prostitution were by no means the only women forced to “work” in the brothels.

The establishment of the brothels, as the piece correctly points out, were in direct response to two issues: Heinrich Himmler’s “incentivisation” program for male inmates working within the armaments factories in the slave-labour camps and homosexuality within the camps. Brothels were obviously the answer to both problems. I have some personal reservations about the brothels being developed to combat homosexuality within the camp system since the men who were incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality were subjected to sexual violence and medical experimentation. Being a known homosexual was much more likely to result in death than a pass to the brothel. The problem within the camps was sexual relationships between men who were not homosexuals and the rape of teenage boys by adult men. Both issues need far more research.

The women who were raped in the brothels included lesbian women as punishment for being lesbians and Jewish women; the laws of Rassenschade were generally ignored in the camps. “Working” in the brothel did involve better food rations. The women were also allowed to bathe and had access to better clothes. They also got to work inside which was an important consideration for many women. Women’s testimonies vary on how women were “chosen” to work in the brothels but most involve the women themselves “volunteering” to be raped in the brothel and women being forced to parade naked in front of SS guards and the most beautiful being chosen. Stories of women “volunteering” to work in the brothel include women who made the “choice” in order to access extra rations to smuggle to their sisters, which may or may not have included biological sisters as the benefits of sisterhood and the importance of women’s relationships are a common theme in women’s testimonies. There are also stories of women who were incarcerated for prostitution “volunteering” for the brothels in order to spare other women the degradation of being raped.

The women “working” in brothels generally represented in women’s testimonies in two ways: as debased women or as true sisters helping other women. Much more research needs to be done into the experience of women who worked in the brothels: who they were and, for those who “volunteered”, why did they make the “choice”.

The third, and in my opinion, the biggest problem with ”When the State traffics women” is that it focuses on men and their feelings, effectively erasing the humanity of the women “working” within the brothels. Men were given tokens for ‘good behaviour’. The tokens were bartered around the camp for food and other extras. Women’s bodies were bartered as objects and then the women were raped but not just by male inmates, and certainly not Jewish men. SS guards also raped the women within the brothels, as they did with women in all the slave-labour, concentration and death camps. Jewish women were allowed to be raped by men but Jewish men were not allowed in the brothels.

As the piece states, the men were given tokens to the brothels were subject to ”humiliating genital examination and a prophylactic injection before being taken to the room”. The piece fails to mention that the women within the brothels were also subject to humiliating genital examinations. SS guards certainly did watch in some camps but not in others. In some camps, SS guards were the only people allowed to rape the women in the brothels.  The women were also raped by dozens of men every day but no mention is made of the effect of this on the women’s bodies. The article also suggests that women who were infected with STIs were sent back to the main camps. It does not mention that this was frequently followed by a death sentence. It is also important to note that the campaign against STIs, as with the campaign against lice, was actually about the “safety” of the SS officers within the camps rather than concern about the male prisoners. The women, obviously, did not count. And, yes, the pregnancies which followed mass rapes were frequently aborted. Depending on the camp, this abortion could simply involve the murder of the women or the women dying from the abortion. It is certainly not quite as easy as the article implies.

This is the piece of text with which I have the most reservations:

What motivated the men who used the service? The need to relieve sexual frustration was one motivation but survivor testimonies also refer to many men wanting to talk or simply feel the physical closeness of a woman. In the pitiless world of the concentration camp they simply sought a few minutes of tenderness. They were as much victims as the women.

Whilst the men were as much victims of the women, it wasn’t for the reasons stated above. After all, the women weren’t exactly in a position to decide whether or not they wanted to talk or just feel the physical closeness of a male body. The women were being raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. The men had a choice. The women did not and to ignore this point is to ignore the experience and trauma of the women. This failure to acknowledge the very gendered nature of the Holocaust has led to women’s lives being written out of history.The issue of brothels within the camps is complicated because it does “challenge prevailing orthodoxies about the nature of Nazi oppression”, but, and this is very important, race was a key factor in the privilege to access to the brothels. Polish resistance fighters, German criminals and western POWs were allowed access to the brothels. Jewish men were banned and Soviet POWs were considered suspect. For the women, race was generally irrelevant. Once women were incarcerated in the camp systems, they were victims of sexual violence from all men*** without the added factor of being incarcerated in the brothel. For women out with the camp system, race also impacted on their experience of sexual violence. German soldiers raped whomever they wanted and the rape and murder of Jewish women in the ghettos guarded by regular German troops. The mass rapes by the Soviet army as the moved west is well-known, less so is the mass rapes committed by Allied forces. The stories of rape of women in Western Europe have not been fully explored.I do agree that the story of sexual violence needs to be historically situated within the wider context of Nazism, however the article refers to a now questionable construction of womanhood in Nazi Germany that was based on Nazi propaganda rather than the reality of the lives of Aryan women [and the conflation of *all* women with Aryan women here is telling]. This, however, is another essay for another time.Sexual violence was an integral experience of the Holocaust for many women and I will write further about the experience of Jewish women in the camps. What I will say is that current research into sexual violence in the Holocaust has shown just how integral sexual violence is to genocide and human rights violations. The fact that rape was not mentioned once during the Nuremberg trials is disgraceful. The fact that neither “forced prostitution” nor rape were considered war crimes until 2002 is a crime in and of itself. When writing women’s histories we need to be careful that we do not use their life-stories to reinforce a narrative based on our political leanings. The experience of women during the Holocaust has already been erased from history once to met a male political narrative. This cannot happen again.

*And, before anyone assumes anything. I only posted the comment yesterday. I’m sure they have a moderation policy which is run by volunteers. Moderating is a time consuming process and not one that anyone should have to do on a Saturday night.

** I have placed a number of terms in quotation marks because they are deeply problematic and outlining why they are problematic is an essay for another day.

***Clearly, not all men in the camps were involved in the rape of women and teenage boys but the threat was there for women.

There is more research on the experience of women available here:

The Holocaust at Women Under Siege
New Holocaust findings highlight larger gap in conflict and rape research at Women Under Siege
Remember the Women Institute

Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.

Rape as Genocide: Understanding sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the context of the Holocaust

This is a conference paper I wrote in 2006. I am sharing it today as part of Holocaust Memorial Day. Since I wrote this paper, more research into rape and the sexual exploitation and violence perpetrated against women and children has been undertaken. Women Under Siege is an excellent source of information as is the book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. My own research in feminist theory has changed my understanding of sexual violence and genocide.

 

In the light of the stories of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape that are a part of the larger narratives of genocide in Darfur, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it is almost becoming a truism to suggest that sexual violence is an intrinsic feature of genocide. In the realms of Holocaust history and studies, however, it is still a subject that has not attracted a great deal of attention. Certainly, scholars who are working on the ambit of female experience, such as Myrna Goldenberg and Joan Ringelheim, have always acknowledged the existence of these stories in Holocaust testimonies, but they have focused on the specific sexual vulnerability of women due to pregnancy, motherhood, and amenorrhea and so mention only small numbers of testimonies of women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted or raped, or even having witnessed these. Furthermore, they have also tended not to look at male testimonies concerning the sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape of female prisoners and even fewer have looked at stories of male sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape.[1]

My own (feminist) readings of the testimonies of witnesses Lucille Eichengreen, Sarah Magyar Isaacson, Thaddeus Stabholz, Weislaw Kieler and Fania Fénelon[2], however, led me to believe that there were more stories of sexual violence than have been acknowledged. Furthermore, if one accepts that sexual violence is not only a common part of genocide but can also be a genocidal act, then it is one that needs to be explored within the context of the Holocaust and the murder of Soviet POWs, the Sinti and the Roma, the mentally ill and differently-abled, and the exploitation of ‘Slavic’ slave-labour during the course of Nazi Germany. This includes not only the sexual violence perpetrated by the German SS, the Wehrmacht, and other Aryan administrators, but also that of the Soviet mass rapes of women at the end of the war and during liberation, as well as the sexual violence by all other militaries, Allied or Axis, and that perpetrated by ‘victims’ of Nazism against other victims of Nazism.

In fact, stories of sexual violence are more common than early feminist Holocaust scholarship has previously acknowledged, which is not to say that it was widespread, although this is likely, but simply that there are more stories than first recognized. There has also been an expansion in the number of stories of sexual violence in testimonies, partly due to new feminist research into rape, pornography, prostitution, and sexual trafficking,[3] which casts some testimonies in a new light, partly also due to the fact that the number of Holocaust testimonies published has increased exponentially since the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These new testimonies include more stories of sexual violence and interpret more events as having a sexual component rather than simply an act of violence of humiliation.

But while the increase in the numbers of stories of sexual violence is partly simply because witnesses now understand and write about specific events in this manner it is also because current feminist reading of testimonies includes a greater knowledge and awareness of sexual violence and reading my/contemporary definitions of sexual assault against the definitions given by witnesses is also essential to my thesis. Furthermore, it is the tension between my reading and what is written/not written that makes this a fascinating area of exploration. It also acknowledges, as Anna Hardman has previously noted, “the difficult interpretative questions as to the relationship between actuality and representation.”[4]

I believe, therefore, that the most significant reason for the expansion in the number of stories are the evolving definitions of the terms rape, sexual abuse, prostitution, humiliation, and choice by scholars, witnesses, and readers of these stories. There are numerous stories now interpreted as sexual violence. These include but are not limited to forced sterilizations of Mischlinge Jews, the Roma and the Sinti and the ‘asocials’, (that is the undesirable elements of society); forced abortions due to race; refused abortions due to race; forced pregnancies; viewing the abuse of others; forced stripping and performance; forced ‘prostitution’; brothels in the concentration camps; and the fear of rape. As a feminist, I feel that these stories needed to be placed in the centre of Holocaust studies along with the stories of abuse, humiliation, torture, starvation, deportation, murder and mass murder, ghettos and gas chambers.

What I consider to be the one of the more common forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust is what Myrna Goldenberg has termed ‘sex for survival.’[5] That is to say, stories of women, men, and children being exploited sexually in exchange for food, clothing, accommodation, work permits in the ghettos, or ‘good’ jobs in the slave-labour and concentration camps. Stories of ‘sex for survival’ exist in diaries written during the war and post-war biographies and oral testimonies.[6]

One such story may be found in one of the most well-known Holocaust testimonies: Fania Fénelon’s published testimony Playing for Time, also published as The Musicians of Auschwitz. Fénelon’s text is one of the most [in]famous memoirs of women written about Auschwitz-Birkenau and, more specifically, about the women’s orchestra in that camp. Fénelon was arrested as a member of the French resistance but was also half-Jewish. She spent nine months in the transit camp of Drancy, where she was tortured, before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. She remained in Birkenau until November 1944 when the Jewish members of the orchestra were deported to Bergen-Belsen, where they were eventually liberated in April 1945. Upon arrival in Birkenau, a member of the orchestra recognized Fénelon as a cabaret singer and her ability to sing Madame Butterfly placed her in the privileged orchestra protecting Fénelon from the severe abuse and torture of the ‘normal jobs’ in the main camp.

Before discussing in depth the stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s testimony one must acknowledge the controversy surrounding it and the subsequent Arthur Miller play and film adaptations based on the text, particularly in relation to the issue of lesbianism and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her testimony Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen.[7] The debate is worth mentioning because of its discussion of identity, the use of survivor interpretations of the behaviours of others, the labels they attribute to other inmates, and the differences in the types of witness testimony, (literary texts, memoirs, poems). Succinctly, the debate concerns Fénelon’s description of the other members of the female orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the boundary between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, particularly of the characters ‘Marta’ and ‘Clara’. Fénelon devotes a section of the text to the relationships between the other prisoners in the privileged orchestra which includes a reference to a lesbian relationship. One of the women involved in the lesbian relationship was a cello player. Lasker-Wallfisch has been very clear that she was the only cello player in the orchestra and that she was not involved in any lesbian relationship and that Fénelon was well aware of this.[8]

There are a number of stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s text but the ones I want to discuss centre around Fénelon’s relationship with the character ‘Clara’ who she meets on the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am engaged in a ‘literal’ reading of the text here in order to demonstrate some of the difficulties inherent in [re]-reading and [re]-writing representations of memory and identity. The problematic status of this particular text is does not lessen its value as a document, rather it is another instance of the problematic use of memory and representation to write a ‘history’ of  the Holocaust. The character of Clara is described as “a girl about twenty with a ravishing head set upon an enormous, deformed body”[9]; a body deformed in the transit camp by starvation, a well-brought up girl who was engaged to a boy she loved. Clara is apparently still a virgin; we do not know about Fénelon. The two young women become friends during the journey and pledge to help one another in the camps.

Fénelon and Clara’s first encounter with the concept of ‘sex for survival’ happened quite quickly after arrival in Auschwitz:

A soldier was walking next to Clara. He had a totally unremarkable face, something between animal and mineral. Suddenly he addressed her in French, in a voice as devoid of expression as he was himself: “I’ll get you coffee if you’ll let me make love to you.[10]

The two girls ignore him and the subject is not brought up again. But the soldier’s statement, so early after arrival, after several days trapped in a cattle car, is a lesson about Birkenau. As Fénelon comments:

Coffee? Either a woman wasn’t worth much around here, or else coffee was priceless. She said nothing and he let it drop.[11]

We do not know if either girl has some prior experience with this in Drancy; both were there for an extended period. It is quite likely that they did but this is assumption rather than factual knowledge. The other, more experienced, girls in the orchestra are quick to point out how cheap a woman’s body, and, by extension, a man’s and a child’s, were in the camps. Jenny, another girl is the orchestra tells them: “All you need to do is find yourself a man; here sausage replaces flowers.”[12]

We can interpret this as a story of prostitution but, while, there is a tremendous amount of feminist research into the coercive aspects of ‘prostitution’ in ‘normal’ society, exchanging sex for food in the midst of a centre for genocide changes and questions the terms we use to define the activity. Not all women who were given the option to engage in sexual activities in exchange for food ‘chose’ to do so, but, some did. Obviously, the term ‘choice’ is also questionable. The terms prostitution, sexual vulnerability, and sexual slavery are debated in feminist scholarship, but once we are within a situation where the intent to commit genocide is evident, trading sex for food, moves outside of common definitions of prostitution. Yet, the term ‘sex for survival’ also seems insufficient to describe the situations that many people found themselves during the Holocaust; indeed, the terms we use to describe these stories seem almost irrelevant in their inability to demonstrate depth of meaning.

Clara, quite quickly, makes the ‘decision’ that food is so important that sex can be traded for it. Furthermore, according to Fénelon, she hoards the food for herself and she is not particular in who the partner is. Several of the other girls have ‘lovers’ whom they sleep with for food, some even sleep with the SS but Fénelon does not describe these other women in the same manner that she describes Clara or her ‘choice’. In fact, Fénelon is extremely dismissive of it, claiming Clara was more interested in food than remaining ‘female.’ Thus it is unclear whether Fénelon is disgusted with Clara because of the sexual act, claiming Clara had lost her ‘womanly dignity’, or that she is disgusted with Clara because Clara is actually transgressing sex or gender boundaries, by refusing to engage in communal survival and share the extra food received. As Fénelon says:

Clara had changed quickly, very quickly. A month after our arrival in the music block, one evening at six o’clock, she’d said to me … I won’t share with anyone anymore.” The next day, at dinnertime, I opened her box by mistake and saw a pot of jam. Clara rushed at me. “Leave that; I told you to keep your hands off it.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. All our boxes look alike. I certainly wouldn’t touch that nobly earned jam of yours!”

There were tears of rage in her eyes, perhaps a last glimmer of a former morality, a remnant of dignity. The donor was probably a kapofrom the men’s camp. Only the kapos, the blockowas, all Poles, Slovaks, or Germans, could come to our block.

Had she been a virgin? It was possible, it wouldn’t have been a decisive factor. Besides, the risk of pregnancy for internees was virtually nonexistent.

I felt sorry for Clara when I saw her twitching her large behind, … She had been an innocent young girl who loved her boyfriend and who still nourished childlike dreams. Living in a sheltered milieu she was innocent of life, like the adorable and naïve Big Irene, who remained so, while Clara changed so quickly and so totally. She had become frighteningly selfish; she would do anything to get food. In the middle of all these painfully thin girls, her obesity was a wonder, a most effective lure for men, who paid court to her in butter and sugar.[13]

But what is ‘womanly dignity’ inside a concentration camp? Can we not interpret part of Clara’s behaviour as an attempt for semblance of human contact or even love?  It is easier to interpret it in this fashion when Clara is engaged in relations with other male prisoners in privileged positions, but it is more difficult to do so when the boyfriend is a particularly brutal (German) kapo who, apparently, voluntarily worked as an executioner for the S.S. guards in the camp, apparently for pleasure rather than requirement. Fénelon posits Clara’s relationships against her own relationships with Leon, her ‘lover’ from Drancy who volunteered for the transport to Auschwitz in order to be with Fénelon.[14] Clara’s ‘boyfriends’ gave her food in exchange for sex, Leon gave Fénelon poetry and letters for, apparently, nothing. Love exists but Clara does not know what it is and is confused.

What is particularly interesting is Fénelon’s construction of Clara’s changing identity, and the way in which she contrasts her transformation from a good virginal girl to a prostitute with her understanding of the behaviour of ‘real’ prostitutes in France. While Fénelon defends the behaviour of French prostitutes who engaged in sexual acts with German soldiers to gather information for the French Resistance in terms of heroism, Clara’s attempt to survive through sex is viewed with disgust, a contrast that is highlighted in Fénelon’s description of Clara’s outrage at her participation in cabarets where German officers were the major clientele:

“I couldn’t have heard you sing,” said Clara rather primly. “We’d stopped going out at night. We didn’t mix with the Germans, and no one went to nightclubs except Germans and collaborators.”

I fell silent, slightly ashamed; it had been very good business. How would Clara have judged the proprietress of Melody’s, who looked like a madam – indeed, perhaps she was – but who protected us? How she would have despised those tarts that hung from the necks of German officers and gave us papers, photographs, and information.[15]

But, why is Clara’s transformation into a ‘prostitute’ to save her own life so negative? Partly, it is because Clara does behave increasingly violently towards the others. Certainly, when Clara is given the job as a kapo, (an inmate barracks supervisor), Fénelon claims she behaves with ruthless and vicious violence, beating the block inmates sadistically for various rule infractions. But this did not happen until after the girls were transferred to Bergen-Belsen; Clara’s ‘prostitution’ occurred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.[16]

This story of ‘sex for survival’ is not uncommon. What is different is the way in which it is contrasted with ‘good’ stories of using sex for resistance. But how is resistance different from survival? Obviously Clara’s brutal behaviour as a kapo in Bergen-Belsen is part of the story and can partly explain Fénelon’s construction of Clara, but we do need to separate Clara’s behaviour in Bergen-Belsen from that in Birkenau to understand how Clara’s ‘choice’ was choiceless and thus to recognise her experience as one of sexual assault. More generally I think this story reveals the complexity of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the Holocaust in that at a certain point Fénelon forgets Clara’s identity as ‘victim’ and recasts her as a ‘perpetrator’ and in so doing, makes the sexual exploitation of Clara a footnote to the dehumanising effects of their situation. In order to rehumanise her (and many other victims of the Holocaust) we must therefore acknowledge and recognise the way in which sexual vulnerability is accentuated by and essential to genocide.

 

 



[1] This is not a criticism of their research but an acknowledgment of the research required. See Myrna Goldenberg, “Different Horrors, Same Hell: Women Remembering the Holocaust”, in Roger Gottlieb (ed.), Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp.150-166; Joan Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research”, in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 10, no. 4, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1984-1985), pp. 741-761. Other examples of this sort of scholarship include Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998). Renate Bridenthal et al., (eds.) When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984); Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000); Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986); Sara R. Horowitz, “Memory and Testimony of Women Survivors of Nazi Genocide” in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1994), pp.258-282.

[2] Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, translated from the French by Judith Landry, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997, 1976); Judith Magyar Isaacson, Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois  Press, 1991); Wieslaw Kielar, Anus Mundi: Five Years in Auschwitz, translated from the German by Susanne Flatauer, (London: Penguin Books, 1982 [1972]); Thaddeus Stabholz, Seven Hells, translated from the Polish by Jacques Grunblatt & Hilda R. Grunblatt, (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990)

[3] Much of this research has grown in relation to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. See: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia (Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1986); Alexandra Stiglmayer, Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bison Books, 1984); Anne Llewellyn Barstow, War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women (Ohio: The Cleveland Press, 2000).

[4] Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000), p. [check notes]

[5] Myrna Goldenberg, “Rape and the Holocaust”, paper presented at Legacies of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust Conference, (Krakow, Poland: May 2005)

[6] Mary Berg, Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, (New York: LB Fischer, 1945); Trudi Birger with Jeffrey M. Green, A Daughter’s Gift of Love: A Holocaust Memoir, (The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1992); Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Hedi Fried, The Road to Auschwitz: Fragments of a Life, edited and translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Gisella Perl, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz, (New Hampshire: Ayer Co., 1992, 1948).

[7] Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen, (London: Giles de la Mare Pub., 1996)

[8] For an excellent discussion of this debate see Anna Hardman, Women and the Holocaust, (U.K.: Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers, 1999 – 2000), pp. 20-27.

[9] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.12

[10] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[11] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[12] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.66: Jenny to Clara

[13] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.105-106

[14] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[15] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[16] This post facto reconstruction of Clara may of course speak volumes about the nature of memory and memoir.

Through a rapist’s eyes

(originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming)

Through a rapist’s eyes is a meme that has been doing the rounds of Facebook for a few years now. We have included the full text of the meme below as there are a number of quite serious problems with it: notably the victim blaming of women for not following this ‘advice’.

1. This meme claims to be based on research with rapists and date rapists who are in prison. Yet, there is no link to any research nor the names of any researchers. Anyone can claim to be writing about a study but if they don’t put in a link, you can’t trust that they’ve read and understood the message. Not all studies are of equal value either – inappropriate, misleading or missed questions can substantially alter the findings.

2. The vast majority of rapes are committed by men known to the victim including: husbands, partners, fathers, brothers, employers. This advice does nothing to protect women from rapists they know and implies that stranger rape is far more common than it actually is. This myth about stranger rapes means that we do not focus on the majority of perpetrators, many of whom are related to the victim.

3. Rapists who are in prison are only a small minority. The vast majority are neither reported and those that are reported are rarely convicted as the criminal justice system fails to support victims. Rape myths and victim blaming make it difficult for women and children to access support and find police officers who will believe them.

4. This advice implies that rapists only target young women – erasing older women, children and men as victims of sexual violence.

Suggesting that these ‘rules’ will protect all victims from rape ignores the reality in which most rapes and other forms of sexual violence occur.

We’ve broken down our responses to the meme below: our responses are in bold.

THROUGH A RAPIST’S EYES” (PLS TAKE TIME TO READ THIS. it may save a life.)

Through a rapist’s eyes. A group of rapists and date rapists in prison were interviewed on what they look for in a potential victim and here are some interesting facts:

1] The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun! , braid, or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed. They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not common targets.

What study? Which group of prisoners were interviewed? Who interviewed them? What was the victim typology – young women? children? elderly women?  Did the interviewers look at issues like race and class when assuming victim typology? Did the examine hairstyle fashions over a number of decades to come to this conclusion? Did they look at when the perpetrator was committing rape?

Telling women how they must style their hair to prevent rape is victim blaming. It erases the perpetrator’s choice to commit rape and holds women accountable for not being ‘proper women’.

2] The second thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women who’s clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many of them carry scissors around to cut clothing.

Again, telling women how to dress to avoid rape is victim blaming. It tells women they are responsible for rape and it tells rapists they are not responsible for their actions.

In 1999, an Italian appeals court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans and everyone knows that jeans require assistance of the wearer to remove. Apparently. This decision wasn’t overruled until 2008. In 2008 in Seoul and 2010 in Australian, juries acquitted rapists because the victim was wearing skinny jeans. The clothing women and children wear is irrelevant to their rape. They are raped because a rapist makes a choice to commit rape. It is not because they are wearing jeans, short skirts,yoga pants or children wearing pyjamas in their own bed.

3] They also look for women using their cell phone, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered.

This rule effectively states that women cannot go in public and live their lives because of men cannot stop themselves from committing rape. Yet, there are no rules for men to stop them going out in public in case they commit rape.

4] The number one place women are abducted from / attacked at is grocery store parking lots.

Again, where is this information taken from? Who and when was the research done?

5] Number two is office parking lots/garages.

And again, where is this information taken from? Who and when was the research done?

6] Number three is public restrooms.

And, finally, where is this information taken from? Who and when was the research done?

7] The thing about these men is that they are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to a second location where they don’t have to worry about getting caught.

Again, the majority of rapes are committed by people known to the victim, frequently in their own homes.

8] If you put up any kind of a fight at all, they get discouraged because it only takes a minute or two for them to realize that going after you isn’t worth it because it will be time-consuming.

This absolutely not true. With some rapists, fighting back leads to increased violence and potentially death.

Humans have three basic responses to crisis or trauma: flight, fight or freeze. However a victim responds at the moment of attack is the correct way to respond for them at that exact moment. Any suggestions that they should have “fought back” or “run away” implies victims are at fault.

The only person responsible is the rapist. We need to focus on the perpetrator.

9] These men said they would not pick on women who have umbrellas,or other similar objects that can be used from a distance, in their hands.

And, yet again, research links?

10] Keys are not a deterrent because you have to get really close to the attacker to use them as a weapon. So, the idea is to convince these guys you’re not worth it.

So, point 8 is you must fight back but point 10 is don’t bother fighting back?

POINTS THAT WE SHOULD REMEMBER:

1] If someone is following behind you on a street or in a garage or with you in an elevator or stairwell, look them in the face and ask them a question, like what time is it, or make general small talk: can’t believe it is so cold out here, we’re in for a bad winter. Now that you’ve seen their faces and could identify them in a line- up, you lose appeal as a target.

Considering the vast majority of rapists are known to the victim, this is rather asinine. Women don’t report rapes not because they can’t identify the rapist but because they know they will not be believed. Women know that police still no-crime rapes without bothering to investigate and the CPS refuse to prosecute because they know juries believe rape myths.

2] If someone is coming toward you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell Stop or Stay back! Most of the rapists this man talked to said they’d leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back. Again, they are looking for an EASY target.

So, women who are raped are responsible for being raped because they are “easy” targets. This advice blames the victim for the perpetrator’s actions. This is the very essence of victim blaming.

3] If you carry pepper spray (this instructor was a huge advocate of it and carries it with him wherever he goes,) yelling I HAVE PEPPER SPRAY and holding it out will be a deterrent.

Except, pepper spray is illegal in the UK and, as we have already mentioned, in situations of crisis people have three equally valid responses to crisis moments. Not every woman will be able to shout out or feel safe carrying an illegal weapon. And, it is not their fault if they are raped. It is the fault of the rapist.

4] If someone grabs you, you can’t beat them with strength but you can do it by outsmarting them. If you are grabbed around the waist from behind, pinch the attacker either under the arm between the elbow and armpit or in the upper inner thigh – HARD. One woman in a class this guy taught told him she used the underarm pinch on a guy who was trying to date rape her and was so upset she broke through the skin and tore out muscle strands the guy needed stitches. Try pinching yourself in those places as hard as you can stand it; it really hurts.

Here, we have the suggestion that women who are raped simply weren’t smart enough to stop the rape. Because this isn’t cruel or victim blaming at all. It also completely ignores basic human responses to trauma or crisis (and this failure to understand basic human psychology demonstrates how dangerous this meme actually is)

5] After the initial hit, always go for the groin. I know from a particularly unfortunate experience that if you slap a guy’s parts it is extremely painful. You might think that you’ll anger the guy and make him want to hurt you more, but the thing these rapists told our instructor is that they want a woman who will not cause him a lot of trouble. Start causing trouble, and he’s out of there.

And, again, without stating where this research comes from on or who the “instructor” (and this term doesn’t fill us with confidence), we can’t actually ascertain if the research has any validity. Certainly, it is wrong to suggest that no rapist will become angry and want to hurt you more if you fight back. Even ignoring the issue of victim blaming, suggesting that a rapist will leave a woman alone if she fights back is extremely dangerous.

6] When the guy puts his hands up to you, grab his first two fingers and bend them back as far as possible with as much pressure pushing down on them as possible. The instructor did it to me without using much pressure, and I ended up on my knees and both knuckles cracked audibly.

This assumes the woman or child has the physical capabilities of doing so; women with disabilities, children and elderly women may not be able to do so. Even women with years of training, some will always freeze during a period of crisis and there is nothing wrong with this reaction. It is normal and suggesting otherwise is incredibly harmful.

7] Of course the things we always hear still apply. Always be aware of your surroundings, take someone with you if you can and if you see any odd behavior, don’t dismiss it, go with your instincts. You may feel little silly at the time, but you’d feel much worse if the guy really was trouble.

And, having told women to ignore their instincts, we now return to the ‘trust your instincts’ suggestion. Women absolutely should trust their instincts. They should also be told that the only person responsible for rape is the rapist. The “advice” above is victim blaming and utterly erases the perpetrator’s responsibility.

FINALLY, PLEASE REMEMBER THESE AS WELL ….

A list of suggestions which all blame women for being raped and all assume that rape victims are young women – and not children or elderly women or women living with disabilities.

1. Tip from Tae Kwon Do: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do it.

2. Learned this from a tourist guide to New Orleans : if a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you…. chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you and he will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car: Kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won’t see you but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping,eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. DON’T DO THIS! The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side,put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU CLOSE the DOORS , LEAVE.

WOMEN: CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE BECAUSE WE CAN’T POSSIBLY HOLD RAPISTS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR BEHAVIOUR

5. A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:

a. Be aware: look around your car as someone may be hiding at the passenger side , peek into your car, inside the passenger side floor, and in the back seat. ( DO THIS TOO BEFORE RIDING A TAXI CAB) .

b. If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.

The evidence for this is?

c. Look at the car parked on the driver’s side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)

And, if you don’t do this, it’s your fault you were raped.

6. ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot).

Assuming you live and work in a building with elevators – if not, clearly it’s your fault for not living in a better place or work on the ground floor.

7. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN!

And the research for this is?

8. As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP IT! It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked “for help” into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

This is socialisation. Women are socialised to be caring and nurturing. It isn’t as easy as ignoring years of socialisation. It also ignores the perpetrator’s choice to harm a woman.

Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it and it’s better safe than sorry.

If u have compassion reblog this post.
‘Helping hands are better than Praying Lips’ – give us your helping hand.

REBLOG THIS AND LET EVERY GIRL KNOW
ATLEAST PEOPLES WILL KNOW WATS GOIN IN THIS WORLD.
So please reblog this….Your one reblog can Help to spread this information.
I hope you all will Reblog. Lets See how many of you really care for this.

THIS COULD ACTUALLY SAVE A LIFE.

There’s nothing quite like some emotional blackmail to make people send around dangerous and unfounded advice.

We rather like this quote from feminist writer and activist @sianushka 

Even if a woman never left her house and lived on her own and did everything this viral tells her to do, it won’t reduce the incidents of rape – simply because this advice won’t stop a rapist attacking someone else. So long as the advice, the guidance, and the hectoring, patronising, patriarchal tone focuses on women’s behaviour then it will never stop rape because it will never be directed at the cause of rape. And that cause is rapists, not women.

The only person responsible for rape is the rapist. They are the ones who choose, consciously choose, to commit a violent crime. And one way to stop some men making that choice is to end rape culture, which is propped up by this viral.

These types of unsubstantiated instructions are about controlling women’s lives. No one makes these lists for men to ensure they don’t go out and commit rape (except Rape Crisis Scotland who got told off for being mean to men by doing it). If your “advice” to end rape focuses on the victim and not the perpetrator, you are contributing to rape culture.

The “Magaluf Girl”: Consent, Alcohol and Coercion

I have been with my children all day. I’ve seen bits and pieces about the “Magaluf girl” giving blow jobs for a holiday but I didn’t want to look too closely because I could already guess how the media would report the story. A young woman who “gave” 24 men blow jobs whilst drunk in a club in Spain would only be reported one way: she was a slag, a slut and a whore.

I didn’t want to read because I remember the coverage of the sexual assault of a young girl at a concert at Slane Castle in Ireland last year: a 17 year old girl who was exploited, assaulted and then had to deal with the images being shared through social media. I thoroughly dislike the term “revenge porn” because it minimises sexual assault and rape with the suggesting of “consent”. Every single person who shared the images and video of the incident at Slane Castle was perpetrating sexual assault – particularly those who shared identifying details of the young woman.

The young woman, who will now be known as the demeaning term “Magaluf girl”, which may or may not be better than her real name being shared, is now experiencing a similar level of blame, harassment, and shaming as the young girl assaulted at Slane Castle. Yet, we still aren’t discussing the issue of sexual exploitation, consent to commit the acts, coercion, consent to share the images in the mass media and the role of men in the club, the audience, and the club owners  and managers who planned a game to have a young woman perform sex acts on multiple men.

@Seja75 has written an important critique of media coverage for Ending Victimisation and Blame but I disagree with part of her analysis. I don’t think it’s possible for a young woman who has been drinking in a club surrounded by large numbers of men cheering her on to have informed consent. Even if a woman has sexual fantasies involving exhibitionism, in a situation in a club with an audience, it is very difficult to feel safe enough to say no – to believe you have a choice to say no. Being surrounded by a large number of men is coercion.

This is without getting into the issue of sharing the video and images across the web. Here, I agree with Seja entirely: anyone who was actually concerned about issues of sexual exploitation and assault will have asked several questions including: has the young woman involved given consent to the the sex act? has the young woman consented to filming? Have the men involved consented to filming? Have the men consented to participating (and Seja raises some interesting questions about one of the men involved)? What was the role of the club in this event? Do they have informed consent? Do they even know what informed consent is?

Unlike Seja, I don’t think there is a best case scenario here. Young women are groomed into sexual exploitation from childhood. We are taught not to say no and we all learn very early what the consequences of saying no are. This is a clear case of sexual exploitation – by a club, by people at the club and by the media.

We need to start asking why men would line up to in a club surrounded by an audience to have a woman orally masturbate them. What is going through their heads at that moment?  Were they drunk and incapable of informed consent? Or, did they enter the club knowing that this was part of the evening?

We need to challenge the shaming of this young women but we also need to challenge a culture where a young woman could be put in a position like this. We need to start talking honestly about what informed consent actually means and we need to start looking at holding businesses accountable for sexual violence perpetrated on their premises but also created by their employees and managers. The staff who created this “blow job for a holiday” are guilty of coercion.

Sharing the images of this event is unethical and immoral. It isn’t required to discuss this case in the media. The media holds responsibility for further sexually assaulting this young woman, just as they did with the young woman at Slane Castle.

Whatever the answers to the questions raised, one point will remain: the media should be prohibited from sharing these images. And, any media outlet, blogger, tweeter or Reddit commentator who share these types of videos and images without consent should be legally prosecuted for sexual assault.

Current Elephants in the Room at Global Summit End Sexual Violence in Conflict

There seems to be a consensus on the following words & concepts being no-nos:

1. Male violence
2. Capitalism and conflict
3. Arms trade
4. Consumerism
5. Human trafficking
6. UN troops as perpetrators
7. Patriarchy
8. Women

End Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones : The Necessity of Women

Two years ago The American Political Science Review published the findings of a study on violence against women that looked at work in 70 countries over four decades whose conclusions were not unexpected for women working within the field of violence against women and whose lack of press coverage was equally unsurprising. The study’s conclusion is that the best predictor for change is “the mobilization of feminists” rather than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. Really no feminist needed a longitudinal, global study to demonstrate this. In the UK, feminists, especially radical feminists, have been essential to the founding for rape crisis centres, refuges, equal pay, the right to vote, women being allowed to get their own bank accounts, mortgages and retain custodial rights of their children.

Today is my second day at Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in conflict and I have yet to hear the word feminism. In fact, I’ve heard very little from women or grassroots organisations. I was at the summit all day on Tuesday for the fringe events focusing on youth. Yet, there were very little youth present. I was worried in advance of attending of the possibility of the exploitation of survivors of sexual violence, but actually their voices were conspicuous by their absence. On the one panel I attended, the sole young woman, Princess, who grew up in post-conflict zone was spoken over and for by a male member of a NGO (and by two white women on the panel).

There were numerous young people represented via art work, film and photography* but many were represented in person by staff of NGOs – who, at least on Tuesday, were uniformly white. I had the privilege of hearing the spoken word artists Mell Nyoko and JJ Bola whose poetry is so very powerful yet the media and other attendees were far more interested in chasing Angelina Jolie and Lynn Featherstone about the building than listening to the reality of lives of women, children and men living in conflict zones.

If feminism mobilisation has been proven to be the best indicator of the permanent change in the status of women, where are the women? Where are the grassroots women’s groups? Why aren’t Million Women Rise, a UK organisation who have been raising awareness of the mass rape of Congolese women here? Where are all the local groups who work in the UK with survivor of sexual violence in conflict zones?

Why is there only one fringe event on the issue of consumerism and capitalism when we know it is responsible for perpetuating the war in the Congo so that the West can have a new iPhone every 12 months? Why isn’t this conference addressing the issue of conflict itself. Or, the mass rapes perpetrated by so-called peacekeeping troops sent in by the UN as happened in the former Yugoslavia? Why is the word patriarchy being limited to those living in the Middle East and South East Asia as if patriarchy doesn’t exist in the UK?

The word culture is being bandied about to mean ‘other’. Sexual violence happens ‘ over there’ because of their culture. The elephant In the room being ignored is that 1 in 4 women between 16-59 are raped in the UK during their lifetime. This conference is ignoring the reality and complexities of sexual violence in conflicts. It is ignoring the UK government deporting women back to areas where mass rape is common or where they will be forced to undergo FGM -which is a form of sexual violence. Why aren’t talking about the migrant women raped at Yarls Wood? Or, the women raped in the UK as a punishment for a ‘crime’ committed by their family? Where are the women’s organisations, like Southhall Black Sisters, who are pointing out the UK governments failure to support women migrants. Why aren’t we talking about our governments destruction of women’s services within the UK -services which support women and children raped here every single day.

Why aren’t we talking about the hypocrisy of William Hague, who I’m listening to right now, standing on a stage asking the international community to help those in conflict zones build a victim-centred justice system to support rape victims when his own government has cut funding here to the justice system? How can we not challenge Hague’s anger at women in the Congo being forced to see their rapist in the street every day when we know this is a reality of the vast majority of rape victims in the UK? Sexual violence in the UK is increasing and victim blaming in the media is worsening. Numerous members of our ‘specialist’ police forces have been investigated for their abject failure in policing rape by no-criming reports and labelling victims liars. Rape crisis centres are closing because there are no funds and wait lists for accessing support are over a year long in some areas. Justice for rape victims does not exist in the UK. Yet, Hague stands on a stage demanding the international community do what his own political party has refused to do.

Sexual violence in conflict zones isn’t new. British, American, Australian, Canadian, German and every other country who fought in World War II had troops who committed mass rapes, yet we only talk about the rapes committed by Russian and Japanese troops. Punishing ‘rebellious’ populations and exerting authority by those in power has always been made on the bodies of women. It does a great disservice to women to pretend that sexual Violence in conflict zones is a recent phenomenon. Or, that conflict ends for women with the formal end of war. The war in the DRC supposedly ended more than 10 years ago yet women are still raped every day by combatants -as are women in Sierra Leone and Chechnya.

We cannot end sexual violence in war zones until we start talking properly about male violence and entitlement. We won’t end it until we start talking about the real causes of sexual violence: patriarchy and capitalism. We need to talk about the arms trade, human trafficking, and the genocidal exploitation of people in order to make iPhones cheaper. We need to recognise that FGM is sexual violence. We need to recognise that street harassment is sexual violence. We need to talk about the toxic masculinity which exists in every culture. We need to talk about the sexual violence experienced by and perpetrated by child soldiers. We need to talk about racism and homophobia. We need to talk about misogyny.

Ending sexual violence in conflict zones requires us to take responsibility for perpetuating it by permitting the arms trade to go unchecked. We need to take responsibility for unfettered capitalism.

Most importantly, we need to listen to the women and children who have survived sexual violence in conflict zones. We need to listen to grassroots women’s organisations.We need to hear what they need. We need to support the work which has been going on for years or generations instead of walking in to ‘fix’ problems that we refuse to acknowledge our responsibility for.

Ending sexual violence requires women’s voices – not men and NGOs speaking for or over them: but women’s voices at the centre of the discussions.

This is the press release for the study:

The study in the latest issue of American Political Science Review (APSR), published by Cambridge University Press for the American Political Science Association (APSA), found that in feminist movements that were autonomous from political parties and the state, women were able to articulate and organize around their top priorities as women, without having to answer to broader organizational concerns or mens’ needs. Mobilizing across countries, feminist movements urged governments to approve global and regional norms and agreements on violence.

Strong, autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women and the key catalysts for government action, with other organizations sidelining issues perceived as being only important to women. Strong movements commanded public support and attention, and convinced the media the issues were important for public discussion. In countries that were slower to adopt policies on violence, feminist movements leveraged global and regional agreements to push for local policy change.

S. Laurel Weldon, co-author of the study, said: “Violence against women is a global problem. Research from North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia has found astonishingly high rates of sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, violence in intimate relationships, and other violations of women’s bodies and psyches. In Europe it is a bigger danger to women than cancer, with 45 per cent of European women experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence. Rates are similar in North America, Australia and New Zealand and studies in Asia, Latin America and Africa show that violence towards women there is ubiquitous.”

The scope of data for the study is unprecedented. The study includes every region of the world, varying degrees of democracy, rich and poor countries, and a variety of world religions – it encompasses 85 per cent of the world’s population. Analyzing the data took five years, which is why the most recent year covered is 2005.

Mala Htun, co-author of the study, adds: “Social movements shape public and government agendas and create the political will to address issues. Government action, in turn, sends a signal about national priorities and the meaning of citizenship. The roots of change of progressive social policies lie in civil society.”

*Images will be uploaded at a later date.

We Believe You

The FeMNist section of Mumsnet celebrated its second birthday this month. Since it’s inception, we’ve expanded from a few regulars into a large community with sub-sections on Activism and two monthly book clubs. FeMNists have been represented at FEM ’11, the UKFeminista Summer Schools, Go Feminism, Muff March, Challenging Porn Conference, Engender, LFN ’10, Reclaim The Night marches in London, Glasgow, Leeds, Edinburgh and Dundee and Million Women Rise London. Members have started new feminist groups across the UK. We have campaigned against Hooters in Bristol, Top Shop’s offensive t-shirts, Harvey Nichols’ Walk of Shame campaign, Pepsi’s End of the World pro-rape ads, the Boots “Here come the Girls” ads and literally thousands of letters and emails of complaints to MPs, MSPs and the judiciary about the suggested “anonymity” for rapists clause that the ConDems thought might be fun. We’ve actively supported Mumsnet’s other official and unofficial campaigns including Let Girls Be Girls against premature sexualisation of children, the Miscarriage Code of Practice, stopping the abolition of the DLA, banning Page 3, removing/ hiding “lad’s mags” from the view of children, better respite care for parents of disabled children, against Nadine Dorries anti-choice bill, and the fight to save the NHS. For this, we have been trolled something ridiculous by Misogynist Rights Activists [MRAs] from all over the internet [but mostly the basement of their parent’s house] and ridiculed by a small number of MNers always willing to stick the boot in. [It has to be said here that the Special Needs forum on Mumsnet is subject to the same vitriol; usually by the same group of trolls.]

The FeMNists are some of the most amazing and inspiring women I have ever come across. They are beautiful, strong, intelligent and real sisters but I have never been so proud to be a FeMNist as I am with the We Believe You campaign. This campaign is/ was ours. It came out of the hundreds of threads written by women asking for support in dealing with their experiences of rape and other forms of sexualised violence; threads where FeMNists were ridiculed for suggesting that most men are not sex-starved beasts. It came out of threads written by FeMNists discussing their own experiences of sexualised violence and encouraging others/themselves to believe that those “small” acts of sexualised violence weren’t really that small. It came out of the theoretical basis of feminism: women supporting women.

But, the real origins of the We Believe You campaign was the Julian Assange rape trial and extradition. Between Assange, Roman Polanski, and the suggested anonymity for rape defendents, the rape apologists were having a field day labeling women as lying whores. FeMNists took a beating from MRAs but also other Mumsnetters who kept insisting that *some* women lie and, anyways, famous leftist-socialist dudes don’t *rape* people. They are falsely accused by evil feminists. It was a distressing period and it did feel like Mumsnet was no longer a “safe space” in which to support one another through our experiences.

In the midst of this discussion and, frankly unnecessarily aggressive trolling by other MNers and MRAs, our lovely Christine de Pizan undertook an informal and anonymous survey of the experiences of sexualised violence of MNers. I don’t think anyone was prepared for the consequences of the survey. Yet, from these competing strands of debate and lack of support came the idea of a campaign about rape myths that Leningrad christened with the name I Believe You. FeMNists took this campaign across the talk boards of MN supporting and grieving with other women.

Last October, we asked MNHQ to run a formal campaign with 2 basic premises: to educate people about rape myths and to make the default position that rape victims are telling the truth. MNHQ more than surpassed our wildest thoughts on this issue. The support for the campaign has been phenomenal with so many amazing women standing together supporting each other. I am proud to be part of Mumsnet and humbled to stand with such an amazing group of supportive and loving women.

The media attention of the campaign, run in support with Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition has been incredible but, more importantly, the campaign’s success in the various forms of social media has given a voice to women who had previously been silenced. The twitter hashtags #webelieveyou and #ididnotreport have been trending with stories of sexual violence and supportive statements [and a couple of misogynistic asshats but they mostly make themselves look like pillocks]. These are just some of the blogs written: saltandcaramel, Gentle Otter, Bidisha, toomuchtosayformyself, Too Many Cuts, and Alreethinny.

What We Believe You has accomplished in just over 48 hours has been to make women’s voices heard.

The survey (completed by over 1,600* women) shows that, of respondents:

  • One in 10 had been raped (10%) 
  • Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted 
  • Almost one-quarter (23%) reported being raped or sexually assaulted four or more times 
  • In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible 

Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:

  • Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police 
  • Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape 
  • Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates 
  • And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame 

The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:

  • Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape 
  • Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic 
  • And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic 

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a fairly significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published to little to no fanfare. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated under a Patriarchal discourse which suggests that if didn’t happen to men then it wasn’t important [which is fundamentally bizarre because men were raped during the Holocaust. Rape during warfare is gendered and most victims are women and children but to pretend that men weren’t raped is equally problematic.]. Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

Since it’s inauspicious publication, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust hasn’t exactly been getting lots of publicity; partly because its an academic text and academic texts don’t usually make the New York Times Best seller list but, mostly, because of the subject matter. That is until Gloria Steinem, one of the original reviewers of the book, got properly involved. Her outrage at the failure of sexual violence to be located in and considered part of genocide and modern warfare partly inspired the founding of the Women Under Siege online project. Women Under Siege is possibly the most important piece of feminist activism of 2011. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive military-industrial complex and the Patriarchy.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. Sinnreich

Rape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)

Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)

Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)